HARRISBURG — A plan from Lancaster County officials that would allow local governments across Pennsylvania to ditch elected tax collectors received mixed reviews in a public hearing Tuesday.
State Sen. Scott Martin, R-Martic Township, led the hearing on his own bill. Several municipal tax collectors expressed opposition to the plan while school business officers and county-level officials — including Martin’s wife, Lancaster County Treasurer Amber Martin — testified in support.
Martin introduced the idea this spring amid multiple cases of municipal tax collectors mishandling funds or, in the case of Manheim Township, engaging in a legal fight to start collecting property taxes instead of having the school district do it.
His legislation would allow tax collectors to be removed from election ballots entirely, if the municipality chooses that option. The county treasurer could then take over property tax collection. Municipalities could also opt to use in-house municipal staff or have a third party collect taxes.
The Local Government Committee hearing was the first one Martin has led since he became acting chairman of the same committee earlier this month, when former chairman state Sen. Scott Wagner stepped down to run for governor full-time.
Proponents say Senate Bill 1099 would be a viable way of getting around what they said is an increasing number of elected tax collectors who are untrained and uncooperative — some of whom are elected through small write-in campaigns.
“We can all agree no matter where you are on this issue, one person should not be able to write themselves in and become responsible for taxpayer money," said Amber Martin, who was not introduced as Martin's wife during her testimony supporting his bill.
But in creating an avenue for eliminating tax collectors, opponents said politics could come into play, and that taxpayers could lose the “personal touch" of interacting with a tax collector.
“I fear that allowing opt-outs for municipalities may start to undercut this system in the way you would saw off the leg of a three-legged stool," said Samuel Adenbaum, tax collector for Lower Merion Township in Montgomery County. “There are efficiencies and there are also synergies but I worry that the system is not broken now and this legislation may well break it."
Bill’s prospects unclear
The prospects for the bill moving forward were unclear, and two of Martin's Republican colleagues on the committee raised concerns that indicated it might face challenges in advancing.
“This might be a problem in one county, but I don't know why we're looking to change the whole state because of one particular county," said state Sen. Thomas McGarrigle, R-Delaware County.
Martin, in defending his proposal, said 41 of Lancaster County's 60 municipalities already voluntarily allow the county treasurer's office to collect local taxes and that it costs less per parcel than if the municipalities did it directly.
In an interview, he acknowledged the bill is controversial and that he will try to determine how much support the it has before bringing it up for a committee vote, which he has the authority to do now as acting chairman.